Ask Your Jewish Fairy Godmother
The Rude Client
Managing a tough situation with finesse
Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I work as a receptionist in a physical therapist’s office. My lousy day started at 7:00 a.m. with a rude and arrogant new patient wanting me to break office rules. I was nice and explained that was he was asking for was simply not possible. But he kept insisting on special treatment, escalating his tone until he was outright nasty. Fortunately, he’s an exception. But still, it was annoying and frustrating. How can I keep control and authority?
When you are confronted with irrational behavior, you need to change the style of the dialogue. It’s hard not to give into the desire to mirror the escalation. But here’s a better technique than fighting anger with anger: Instead, respond with politeness, even niceness. Talk more softly and slowly. Control the pace and tone of the interaction. Don’t give in to the arrogance or the entitlement. Be helpful, but not servile; stay firm.
To help prevent this type of problem in the future, have the office rules printed and clearly posted. No matter how rude the patient, paste a plastic smile on your face. Continue to play the dutiful, helpful role that people expect from a receptionist. Repeat what you need to say as often as necessary, so it’s clear you are not going to change your answer because of badgering. Also, to protect yourself, be very careful not to mutter any descriptions of character or obscenities loud enough to be heard when the person walks away. At the end of the day, tell your practitioner/boss so he or she can reaffirm the procedures directly to the client.
Every job involves knuckleheads and knuckleballs. If this is as bad as it gets, you are doing pretty well.
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